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24 September 2014

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You are in: Kent > People > Profiles > Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth [Photo: Gill Shaw]

Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth is a man whose life reads much like his novels. Having travelled the world and risked his life for his research, he is an author who humbly admits that he has had “the occasional adventure” in a life that began in Kent 68 years ago.

On the telephone Forsyth, or ‘Freddie’ as he is affectionately known, sounds like the typical English gentleman: well mannered, polite and cheerful.  Almost every household in the country will have a copy of one of his novels although he is perhaps most famous for his first, The Day of The Jackal which has recently been voted 109 in the BBC’s top British reads of all time, an accolade which he describes as “not all that bad considering we’re talking about tens of thousands of books.” 

Growing Up in Kent

Forsyth was born in “the very small agricultural market town” of Ashford in 1938.  Despite his very happy memories of the town it was its smallness of size that spurred on his curiosity of the outside world and his desire to travel.  “I was certainly one of those young boys that wouldn’t want to spend the whole of my life in a small town, and I would say that of any small town.”

"I didn’t realise as I wrote it that it was going to be this big blockbuster which would change my life"

Forsyth on 'Day of the Jackal'

When asked if the county has influenced his writing his says “Yes, very much so.  It is one of the most historical parts of the country and I was surrounded by it growing up; to think that I was living on a road down which Crusaders and Normans and even Caesar’s Legion had probably marched fascinated me then and still does to this day.” 

He has very fond memories of the county and still visits the areas which he describes as “the sort of Kent that H.E. Bates wrote about in The Darling Buds of May, Pa and Ma Larkin’s Kent – all up there through Pluckley and Marden and Smarden and the little villages of Kent.  I still love the old Kent, the Kent that is garden of England, it is still a real delight to visit.”


When he was a boy his father sent him to live in France and Germany for a year to learn modern languages, a thing which “to most of the shopkeepers of Ashford High Street was a pretty weird thing to do.” It was his fluency in German and French that earned him a scholarship to the prestigious Tonbridge School and go on to pass his A-Levels at a remarkably young age.  In 1956 he then joined the RAF and rather impressively became the youngest man in England at the time to earn his wings.  After a 2 year stint he decided to leave and follow his dream of becoming a Foreign Correspondent. 

The road to becoming a Writer

Unlike many authors, Forsyth hadn’t even considered being a writer saying that “the tumble from Journalism into novel writing was entirely coincidental.  It happened simply because I came back from Africa where I had been a War Correspondent for two years and with no projects on my plate I thought I’d write a novel which turned out to be The Day of the Jackal.  I didn’t realise as I wrote it that it was going to be this big blockbuster which would change my life.”  He wrote it in just thirty-five days, a feat he describes as something “not quite so crazy when you think of twelve pages a day, times that by thirty-five and there you go, there’s your novel.”  Making it sound so easy, he adds, “Now I’ve slowed down a bit; I now take forty-five days.”

The Thriller

Forsyth’s love of investigative journalism resonates throughout his writing.
This is evident in the immense amount of preparation and research that he puts into a project, travelling the world and at one point risking his own life, posing as a South African interested in buying arms.  “I prefer to find out the truth about things” Forsyth says, “rather than make things up I like to focus on the details.”  He has been described as helping to ‘define the international conspiracy thriller’, a label, which he is, of course, proud of but would he ever want to experiment with any other genre? “Well, I have dabbled in comedy and short stories and even wrote a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, entitled The Phantom of Manhattan, but my strong suit and my long suit must be the political thriller, which I am of course most famous for.” 

Forsyth’s most recent novel, The Afghan is another thriller relating to the contemporary political climate.  However, to comment on political issues is not Forsyth’s intention, “I try desperately hard not to preach.  I keep my comment oblique if you like.  The stories that I write are set if not in the present day then at least the recent past in order to write about something people are interested in – to give myself a bit of a leg up.”

To Relax

When not busy writing, Forsyth is a man of leisure.  When he was young, his father used to take him to watch the football and often went sea fishing together off the coast of Kent, a hobby that he continues to this day.  “I go fishing off the Devon coast but I haven’t been fishing off the coast of Kent for an awful long time now.  Because of the old bones, I tend to go to the Tropics which is lovely and warm so I can lie out like a lizard on the dock and soak up the sun.”  However, his Kentish love of sea fishing still remains as he says that “There, of course, I can flop into the warm water and put my mask on and go scuba diving or snorkelling over the coral reef - that’s now my pleasure at the ripe old age of 68.”

last updated: 02/04/2008 at 16:26
created: 17/11/2006

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